Thursday, January 06, 2011

Getting to Know Weave and Fiber

Welcome to another “Fabric Junkie” blog! Today we’ll continue the discussion on fiber and weave. In my last piece about this, I noted that many sellers (buyers, too) either think of the two as the same, or treat them as such, e.g., by stating the weave in the description, they believe they’ve covered both. But, weave is only half the story. People often know weaves but don’t realize that several different fibers can be used to create the same weave. Last time I talked about satin, taffeta, and chiffon. Today we’ll look at three other fabrics that are also popular and typically presented in terms of weave only. These are jersey, velvet, and gabardine:

Jersey: A single-knit fabric that is thin and smooth, and drapes well. Many people associate jersey with cotton (those popular concert t-shirts, soft cotton tops and skirts, etc.). But jersey knit can be made from a very wide variety of fibers: silk, rayon, polyester, nylon, even wool. Cotton/polyester blends are quite common. Jersey is very flattering and suitable for body-conscious styles. Take a look at these pieces:

Cole of California nylon jersey animal-print dress from Catseye Vintage:


Late 30s/early 40s rayon jersey dress Vintage Baubles Too, recently sold:


Velvet: One of the most common fabrics for which people mistakenly equate fiber and weave. But, like jersey, velvet can be silk, rayon, cotton, nylon, polyester, or blends. A cut-pile fabric, it’s woven into a plain or twill backing with a “pile” of yarn formed by loops raised from the surface. The loops are then cut to form “strands,” or the nap. Cotton is made into both velvet and velveteen. It’s difficult to tell the difference between them only by looks. But when you feel both, they’re distinguishable from one another. Velveteen has a very short, dense nap and feels “stiffer” than velvet. Cotton velvet is softer, generally with a slightly longer nap, and has more sheen to it than velveteen. But still not as lush as rayon or silk velvet. Today’s silk velvets are often a silk pile woven into a rayon backing. Although one can still find all-silk velvet, its cost as a yards good can be prohibitive.

Here’s a Victor Costa rayon velvet dress (scroll to bottom of page to view) from Vintage Baubles:


And a cotton velvet Ralph Lauren dress, which will soon be listed at Vintage Baubles Too:


A type of twill weave, it exhibits steep diagonal lines, or ribbing, on its surface. It’s very sturdy and durable, used for suits, trousers, coats, etc. Relatively wrinkle free, it’s also good for sportswear and work clothes. Although many people think of it as wool, it can also be made from polyester, cotton, rayon, and blends.

Here's a Handmacher wool gabardine suit from Catseye Vintage:


And a gabardine topper jacket from After Dark Vintage that appears to be a wool/rayon blend:


How to determine fiber and weave? The best way is through handling as many different known fibers and weaves as you can. Note the content and weave of modern and vintage garments you already have--how they feel, how they drape, etc. Go to the fabric store, take a bolt of rayon velvet and one of cotton velvet, and compare the feel. There is nothing like “hands-on” practice! Identifying fabrics will become much easier over time. But, no matter how well versed you are, sometimes you just can’t tell. You should learn how to do a burn test for fibers you can’t identify. This isn’t always possible, but it can be valuable when it is. Do a search for “fiber burn test,” and you’ll find charts, tips on methodology, etc. Because many fabrics consist of blends of fibers, even a burn test may be inconclusive.

It’s not a crime to not know what fiber an item is made from. But, I think sellers should at least state a “best guess”; be clear that it is a guess. In online selling, where a buyer can’t handle an item, it’s important for them to have an idea how something feels, drapes, and will look on them. Knowing the fiber and weave of a piece can go a long way to that end, as well as indicating to them how to care for it.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to keep an eye out for the next installment of "The Fabric Junkie"

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